Researchers at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Pacific Tsunami Warning Center report a UH research vessel was able to detect and measure the properties of the tsunami generated by a magnitude-8.8 earthquake in Maule, Chile, in February 2010, even though out in the open ocean the wave was only about 4 inches.
On its way from Hawaii to Guam at the time of the tsunami, the vessel Kilo Moana was equipped with a geodetic GPS system that recorded data as the tsunami passed by, a university release reported Saturday.
This finding came as a surprise because tsunamis have small amplitudes in deep water compared with their size when they reach a coastline, the researchers said.
Scientists say such GPS data could be another weapon in tsunami detection and warning efforts.
"Our discovery indicates that the vast fleet of commercial ships traveling the ocean each day could become a network of accurate tsunami sensors," UH researcher James Foster said.
"If we could equip some fraction of the shipping fleet with high-accuracy GPS and satellite communications, we could construct a dense, low-cost tsunami sensing network that would improve our detection and predictions of tsunamis -- saving lives and money," he said.